Grenada: The spice isle goes for gold

Patricia Cleveland-Peck reveals how Grenada brings the tropics to Chelsea Flower Show

I thought I was going to a plant nursery but instead I find myself in a rough, wild setting surrounded by massive clumps of tropical blooms, many much taller than myself. The scent of nutmeg is in the air, hummingbirds are hovering among dramatic stands of huge torch gingers, their scarlet flowers as big as a baby's head.

There are dozens of vivid lobster-claw heliconias and banana plants with pink and purple flowers all growing in this jungle-like setting amid an eerie scattering of old ruins. It is about as far from your local garden centre as you can imagine. Yet the Balthazar Estate, in the middle of the Caribbean island of Grenada, is where most of the flowers are grown for Grenada's exhibit at an event which takes place far across the sea: the Chelsea Flower Show.

The people of Grenada are proud of the fact that they have won 10 Gold Medals at Chelsea, where their exhibits effectively act as a showcase for the island's tourist industry. The climate, rainfall and volcanic soil make Grenada incredibly productive and floriferous. Along the roadside you see palms, papaya and mango trees and there are old rum distilleries and cocoa plantations. As well as Balthazar, there are a number of private gardens and spice-growing establishments open for plant-lovers to visit.

The whole Chelsea operation is masterminded by Suzanne Gaywood, a Grenadian who is resident in England and who works in conjunction with her team. "Team effort is everything," she told me. "We all pull together to make this happen."

Denis Noel, the owner of Balthazar Estate, was the first person Suzanne recruited. Sitting in his lovely old plantation house, he tells me that in the 1700s sugar cane was grown here, then in the 1800s bananas, cocoa and nutmeg (still one of the country's most important crops) took over. They were still being farmed when his grandfather bought the estate in 1945. Eventually the acreage was cut and Denis started farming flowers: 26 tropical varieties are grown, for the home and export markets.

The next team member I visit is Fletcher Frank, who grows anthuriums. The journey to his nursery takes me up roads which wind high through woodland. "The altitude and cool temperatures [a mere 29-31C] suit them, as does the 80 per cent humidity," Fletcher tells me as we gaze down to where several shade houses can be seen among the lush greenery. Each house contains 5,000 plants sporting flowers with vivid pink or red spathes or bracts, from which the spike, or flower proper, extends. Anthuriums are epiphytes, which derive their moisture and nutrients from the air, so are grown on raised beds filled only with coconut shell. As well as being very decorative they also have a long vase life, which makes them ideal for showing at Chelsea.

As any flower arranger will tell you, blooms are not the only thing you need – foliage is essential to set them off. In the Bay Gardens, set high up in the cool rainforest, huge old mahogany and white cedar trees clothed with giant philodendrons and shrubs embellished with bromeliads are to be found growing as if in a lost paradise. The owner, Albert St Bernard, who also helps to arrange the stand, will pick some unusual pieces to bring.

It is John Criswick of St Rose Nursery, however, who supplies the bulk of the foliage. He cultivates a wide range of multi-textured plants including enormous philodendrons, ferns and cordylines in many shades of green, yellow and magenta. He established this nursery 30 years ago and also plays an important role at the show itself.

"He is the one who knows all the Latin names," I am told by Cathy John, president of the Grenada Horticultural Society, when I meet her at her home. Her role is to travel all over the island seeking out spices and prize plant material which she buys or asks the grower to donate.

"We need big bold plants, long-stemmed orchids and such like. Members of the Orchid Circle are all proud to donate. In fact all over the island people ring us and invite us to see what they have," she told me. "I like to surprise Suzanne with something special.

"We begin here on the Monday before the show, when we wash and condition the plants and pack them in boxes using fleece. The boxes are labelled so we know which can 'sleep overnight' when we get there and which must be taken out immediately."

This year's exhibit is entitled "Spice Isle – Spices, Rainforest and Beach", bringing together some potent elements of Grenada's attraction. I wish them luck ... and another Gold.

Chelsea Flower Show (rhs.org.uk) runs from 20-24 May. BBC TV coverage begins Sunday on BBC1 at 5.35pm.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7777; virgin-atlantic.com) and British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) fly from Gatwick.

Visiting there

Caribbean Horizons (001 473 444 1555; caribbeanhorizons.com) in St George's offers a Floral Delight Garden Tour from US$120 (£75) for two people for a half-day.

Balthazar Estate, St Andrews (001 473 442-7514), admission US$10 (£6.25) call before arrival.

St Rose Nursery & Garden, St George's (001 473 440 5870), entry US$6 (£4) or free if buying plants.

More information

grenadagrenadines.com

grenada-at-chelsea.org.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk